I’m not a fan of crits with its tight turns, repeated 1-mile lap over and over and over again for forty minutes, and the crashing. Now, crits are no more dangerous than any of the other races. I know because the only time I’ve ever been in a crash was in an organized ride, not even a race. Unfortunately, for crits, they haven’t rid themselves of the stigma and I haven’t rid myself of it either.
Lining up to any race has my nerves running haywire, but this being my team’s race I felt an extra sense of pressure to perform better than ever.
And I fucked that up.
I didn’t want to race and at one point I was bored enough of hiding in the pack, dodging wind and women who didn’t hold their lines, I figured I’d take risks I normally wouldn’t.
One woman had sprinted off and no one wanted to chase her. After two laps, still feeling pretty energized, I sprinted off the front in an effort to catch her. As soon as I caught up, she thanked me, and I said, “we gotta go ‘cause they’re coming for us.” I said it as if we had a chance to fend off the rest of the pack for another 20 minutes.
The group caught us and there we were again: going in circles like some kind of merry-go-round. With about three laps to go, I was still feeling pretty fresh and strong. I took to the front of the pack.
Here was my thinking and probably why I’m still an amateur racer and not a pro:
I was going to sprint off the front of the group after the last turn before it became a straightaway. I assumed I’d get away for three laps to hopefully take the win.
I didn’t like crits so I had nothing to lose if this spur-of-the-moment strategy didn’t work.
So there I was, front and center of the pack, darting into the 90 degree turn (maybe at 20 mph), women all around, I’m so ready to dash off that I start pedaling before I had straightened my bike and click.
I strike my pedal against the pavement that jettisons me across the road straight toward the metal fencing, which is conveniently where my grandmother is sitting right behind. My family’s watching me fly directly toward them and the whole time this is happening, I’m thinking to myself: “how can I avoid breaking myself and my bike?”
The metal barriers are coming at me 20 mph, I’m fumbling with my handlebars attempting to gain control and turn before becoming one with metal, and at the absolute last moment before my tire and then my body plows into the fencing, I direct my bike left.
I’m still upright, unscathed, heart’s racing, and the pack of women I naively thought I’d leave in my dust are pedaling away.
I have a hundred voices yelling at me from all directions: “keep pedaling!” “Go go go!!” “C’mon McWhirt! You got this!” “Pedal!!!”
I start to pedal furiously again and nothing’s catching, I’m not moving forward. I look down at my chain and see it’s limp between my frame and crankset.
I pullover to set it back and still, people are screaming at me to “GOOO!” With trembling fingers, I manage to get the chain back on and I’m told to get a free lap because of a mechanical. I walk to the pit and am quickly rejected as we had less than 7 laps left.
The only reaction I could muster was a pathetic laugh: at the situation and at myself.
How did I honestly think I could pull-off what I whimlessly thought I could do? I felt like a joke.
Instead of moping, throwing my bike across the road, blaming someone else, or taking a DNF, I hopped back on my bike and started pedaling to finish the last rounds.
I came around the following corner and was directed by policemen, volunteers, and EMTs to stay to the left. Then I saw several women on the ground. I realized: that could have been me. I could have been in that crash. I saw one of the women who was sketchy during the race on the ground as well. I knew she would be involved in a crash based off the numerous times she cut me off through a turn and who knows who else – and it was clearly not a race tactic.
I pedaled passed the carnage and quickly caught up with the 4’s on my team. As they were soft pedaling at that point, I assumed this was the last lap.
Making my way around the turn that had it out for me, I saw the lap counter and there was still another lap to go. I tried giving it my all, to catch up to as many racers as I could, to smile at the people screaming my name and my team, all while trying to keep my shit together.
I crossed the line solo and somehow ended up in 11th out of 16. I assumed I’d come in DFL.
As my buddy, Anna, told me in my podcast, “race to fail.” To fail is to learn and as a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I’ve never been okay with failing. But as an avid learner, I constantly seek experiences that teach me about the world and about myself.
Sure, I tried a few different “tactics,” just to see what I could get away with.
Who knows how the race would have turned out if I didn’t drop my chain. But these things happen. But I did race to fail. I pushed myself. I tried breaking away from the group. I took sketchy turns. I raced out of my comfort zones. I recovered from a near-crash (thanks to mountain biking). And I didn’t eat pavement. And the best part was having all the support from my friends and family.